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James R. Stout

Bullitt, The Gun-Shy Dog

            My grandparents always had a dog. It was pretty much a necessity for living on a farm. In about 1942 they got a Leopard Dog and named him “Lep”. I have very vague memories of him from my early childhood. Lep died in 1959 at the age of 17. There were many stories told about Lep after his passing. He was said to be the best hunting dog, especially coons, in the county. I heard all the stories and there was not only a lot of respect for Lep in those stories, but a whole lot of love. After Lep passed my grandfather took in a stray and named him Tramp. Tramp had a bad habit of chasing cars as they went past the house. Apparently, he irritated one too many drivers and after chasing a truck one day he never came back. A few days later my grandfather found Tramp in a ditch about a mile down the road. He had been run over by a vehicle.

            Tramp was barely cold in the ground when Grandpa got Bullitt. He was named after Roy Rogers’ dog. But the name was the only thing he had in common with Roy’s Bullitt. Bullitt was a friendly dog and playful, but as the old saying goes, “That dog don’t hunt.” When he was just a puppy it was Christmas of 1961. In those days one of the Christmas gifts the grandsons got was a package of Black Cat Firecrackers. Nothing says “Merry Christmas” like giving a 6-year-old boy some explosives. But truth be told, we were well monitored by our parents. Mom was afraid that I would blow off a finger and she would yell “Throw it, Randy!” almost before I could light one. Dad had the best hearing of anyone that I ever knew. Even in old age he could hear what you whispered to someone else in the next room. His livelihood depended on his good hearing. Thus, he watched the fireworks with both hands pressed firmly on his ears. Grandpa was losing his hearing and didn’t seem to hardly notice.

            Well, no firecrackers were thrown at Bullitt or any such horrible thing, but the noise scared the poor dog so much that he spent the night cowering under the house. To a dog, there isn’t much difference between the sound of a firecracker and a .22 rifle. It didn’t take long for Bullitt to learn that the long stick that Grandpa had went boom. So, all Grandpa had to do was take the .22 rifle down from the gun rack and Bullitt went slap dab crazy. (Dad’s description) This became quite the embarrassment for my grandfather. He had once been the proud owner of the best hunting dog in the county and now he had a dog that ran under the house whenever the .22 was near. I remember one time when a coon got in the garage and Grandpa headed out with the .22 to take care of business. Bullitt wanted so bad to check out the critter in the garage, but that .22 scared him to death. He ran around in circles, fit to be tied as they say, not knowing what to do. With tail hung low and whimpering loudly, he finally crawled under the house. Meanwhile, during all that ruckus the coon managed to escape. Poor Grandpa just stood there dumbfounded. He finally headed back to the house, shaking his head the whole way, and muttering under his breath something about “that dab nab dog”.

            Grandpa did come to love Bullitt, but he was always embarrassed by Bullitt’s cowardice. At the end of March in 1967 Bullitt went missing. He just disappeared. My grandparents also had a cat named Tiger that they had gotten when Bullitt was a puppy. Tiger went missing too. We didn’t think much about Tiger being gone because he had become half-feral living on the farm and would be gone for days tomcatting around. But when both came up missing it raised concern. They say that some animals can sense things that we humans can’t. Our family would later wonder if perhaps that was true. During the week of April 17 Grandpa was building a new fence on a part of the farm. In fact, the exact spot where he was working can be seen from the front porch of my house. He came home for lunch on that Thursday and complained of heartburn. Apparently, he had been having heartburn all week. Grandma insisted that he go see the doctor the next day. Well, the doctor examined Grandpa the next day and told him that he didn’t have heartburn. He informed my grandparents that Grandpa had been having little heart attacks all week. In his 67 years of life, Grandpa had never spent a day in the hospital. But he had to spend that Friday night in the little hospital in Crockett, Texas.

            On April 22, 1967 at about 10 a.m. Grandpa, Grandma, and my Aunt Velma were visiting in Grandpa’s hospital room. My grandmother noticed that Grandpa had gotten quiet and asked if he was feeling OK. Grandpa told Grandma that his chest was hurting something fierce. My Aunt Velma went to get a doctor. While she was gone Grandpa clutched his chest, raised up in the bed, and then passed out. The doctor came running into the room and tried CPR, but it was too late. He turned to my Grandmother and said, “I’m afraid he’s gone, Mrs. Parker.” It changed our world.

            Did Bullitt and Tiger know something like this was going to happen? Probably not, but it does make you wonder. With the passage of time the pain of the loss of Grandpa subsided. We started remembering all the good times. As an adult, I look back on Bullitt, The Gun-Shy Dog and all of his wacky ways and I have to chuckle. I know more now about how my grandfather must have felt when Bullitt would run like a scalded dog under the house at just the sight of that wicked fire stick. If all dogs go to Heaven, then I suppose Bullitt is up there now. I have to wonder though. When the Heavenly choir reaches a crescendo, does Bullitt run and hide under St. Peter’s robe?

Picture of Bullitt, me, and Our1961 Ford Galaxie 500 in 1962

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